This week, Florine Demosthene, Haitian artist who currently lives in New York, presents her vision of one of her favorite work subject, the black female body in contemporary visual culture.
How did you start working as a visual artist ?
I earned my BFA from Parsons the New School for Design and my MFA from Hunter College. I have shown extensively through group and solo exhibitions in USA and London.
I was a recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant in 2011 and I was featured in the premiere issue of ARC (a magazine that is dedicated to highlighting emerging and established Caribbean artists).
You work is based on stereotypes and representation, how these challenges are a source of inspiration for you?
The stereotype of the large black female is deeply entrenched in the relationship between Europe and Africa, as well as the relationship between master and slave. These false notions do not emanate from one particular set of ideals and/or principles, but is rooted in the exploitation and degradation of women throughout European history (particularly during 1580-1860). The large black female stereotype tends to appear in two forms:
#1. The voluptuous sexless caretaker of the white family (either as a maid, servant or excellent cook); She often serves as the confidant of the white woman; She’s loyal, as well as, simple minded (Aunt Jemima, Mammie, etc.).
#2. The sexually assertive but unattractive sassy female; She’s depicted as being an emotionally strong woman, often a single parent (at times to children who are not hers…re-enforcing the Mammie stereotype), a good singer and a church goer.
Both of these stereotypes continue to dehumanize and undermine the black female experience. Black women, as a whole, are greatly misunderstood. We are placed on lower strata of American society. Even when we achieve the unachievable (in essence to be on par with a white male), the stereotypes still persist. Oprah could not have been (and still continue to be) “America’s most loved TV host”, with out playing into the stereotype (whether conscious or unconscious). She’s toned down her passionate approach (early in her career that passion was misconstrued as ‘aggression’) and channeled it to the ‘lending an ear’ or ‘confidant’ approach. Michelle Obama has refused to submit to status quo and is often characterized as being an aggressive, tyrannical bitch.
My interest in these stereotypes lay in the physicality…the physical body of the large black female (or what I like to call, “The Black Venus”). I’m intrigued with how much meaning, whether negative or positive, can be derived from that body type
Can you tell us about your media mix technique?
The technique that I implore was discovered purely by accident. While planning for a year long sojourn through the Caribbean, Europe and West Africa, I packed only the art materials that I had not used. I knew that I would probably want to focus on drawings but I also wanted to keep my options open. While cleaning up a massive spill from an ink bottle (it essentially exploded in my suitcase), I realized that the ink made some intriguing textures and forms on mylar paper. I used this method of pouring and pooling the ink to create this sort of multi-dimensional atmosphere on mylar sheets. I would then draw with charcoal and graphite on top of the ink to create even more depth. By the end of my residency in St. Croix, I was using the drawings as photographic plates for cyanotype prints.
When I arrived to Ghana I had developed a method for getting some intriguing textures (rollers, blotters, natural fibers, etc.) but I felt that the drawn figure and atmosphere were becoming two separated entities. I shifted my focus to rendering the figure and background in ink. When I returned to New York, I incorporated oil paint (oil sticks) into the work as a means of highlighting a certain area and to add another texture/color into the work.
You live and work in Brooklyn. What do you think of the representation of Caribbean Arts in NY?
I live and work in NYC and Accra, Ghana. NYC is a great place to explore cultural and artistic practices. The Caribbean region, as a whole, has always had a strong presence in the NYC cultural tapestry.
What are your upcoming projects, exhibitions or collections?
Over the next couple of months, I will be working on a collaborative mural project in Brooklyn (via Haiti Cultural Exchange) and I will create a series of illustration for a Haitian children’s book (via One Moore Books). I’m also developing new work for an exhibition in Accra later this year